Feral Hogs Threaten Agriculture and Human Health

by Vins
Published: Updated:

An alarming increase in the population of invasive feral hogs is contributing to the spread of deadly diseases and the destruction of crops and endangered animal species, National Geographic reported in February 2023. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs have been reported in at least 35 states, and the current population of more than six million is “rapidly expanding.”

In addition to causing an estimated $2.5 billion in damage to agriculture crops, livestock, pastures, and forests each year, National Geographic reported, feral swine also carry diseases that “could potentially spread to people,” including leptospirosis, toxoplasmosis, brucellosis, swine influenza, salmonella, hepatitis, and pathogenic E. coli. These pathogens can have serious impacts on human health. Leptospirosis, for example, can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and death if left untreated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feral swine can also be sources of new diseases. Vienna Brown, a USDA staff biologist with the agency’s National Feral Swine Damage Management Program says, “Swine, in general, are considered a mixing vessel species because they are susceptible to human viruses, like influenza viruses. And when those get into swine, they could create a novel influenza virus.”

In February 2023, the Guardian reported that feral hogs from Canada, which are adapted to colder conditions, are “poised to infiltrate” the northern United States. These “super pigs” are the result of  cross-breeding domestic pigs and wild boars. “Wild pigs are easily the worst invasive large mammal on the planet,” Ryan Brook, who leads a wild pig research project at the University of Saskatchewan, told the Guardian.

The feral swine problem has received some corporate news coverage including reports by the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. An April 2022 Los Angeles Times article focused mainly on feral swine in California and only addressed some of the issues raised in the National Geographic report. Newsweek highlighted a social media post of someone’s lawn being torn up by feral pigs, after the post went viral, but the magazine’s coverage failed to add detail about the greater harm feral hogs can cause.

Sources:

Jason Bittel, “Hogs Are Running Wild in the U.S. And Spreading Disease,” National Geographic, February 1, 2023.

Adam Gabbatt, “‘Incredibly Intelligent, Highly Elusive’: US Faces New Threat From Canadian ‘Super Pig,’” The Guardian, February 20, 2023.

Student Researcher: Brandon Szabo (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)